Thursday, January 5, 2012

Christmas and New Year at the End of the World

It's January 5th and I am chilling by the side of our hostel pool in Iguazu, a little town in the northern part of Argentina, close to the border with Brazil. It'crazy humid hot here and we've been spending the last few days cooling off in the pool. Hard to think that 3 days ago we were still in freezing Patagonia. We've flown and bused all the way from the southern tip of South America to the jungle in the north, and went from zero degrees to almost 40. Today Anne went to hike some more in the Iguazu Falls national park, while I remained at the hostel to chill, swim in the pool, write blog posts and troll the internet. I needed a break from the madness. On that note, here's a recap on how we spent Christmas and New Year's Eve in 2 towns in the South of Chile: Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales.

This is us boarding our plane from Buenos Aires to Santiago de Chile at 9pm. I rarely get to board a plane the old school way, by climbing a staircase straight from the tarmac, so this was an exciting opportunity to take these photos.
That's me there in the front boarding the plane. To get to Patagonia, we flew from Buenos Aires to Santiago de Chile, got in at midnight, chilled for a few more hours in the airport, then boarded another plane to Punta Arenas, where we arrived at 5:30am. Long night of flying.
This was our hostel in Punta Arenas. It was very tastefully decorated, with a hint of nostalgia, and old school, grandma-style floral paintings. It was an interesting mix of mountain lodge and shabby-chic style.
 Our room at Hostel Keoken in Punta Arenas.
As Anne mentioned in her own blog post, the cemetery in Punta Arenas was one of the main attractions of this town, mainly for its carefully manicured trees. Long avenues of tree cut in this shape lined up the cemetery. We thought it would be a fun place to play hide-and-seek (and I feel like the dead here would enjoy knowing their final home also doubles as such a great playground.)
 I was trying to make it rain with Chilean money, but I really didn't have enough bills on me to make it look badass. A 10,000 chilean pesos bill is the equivalent of a 20 USD bill. Chile is an expensive country, with a lot of items costing almost as much as in the US. The cabs were the only cheap things, ironically.
 There isn't much going on in Punta Arenas, other than cold and wind, clear blue skies and brightly painted houses made of corrugated metal. They don't build stuff out of brick here. Also, because of the crazy strong winds, they also don't build 2-storey buildings, so all houses look small and cute like these ones. Also, Punta Arenas is full of Croatian immigrants. The cemetery is full of graves with Croatian names. I still haven't found out why they came all the way here.
A view of Punta Arenas from a stroll we took on the beach on December 24, Christmas Eve. It happens that this beach is none other than the shores of the Magellan Strait. When I was a kid my grandma read me stories of pioneers and adventures and that's when I first learned about Magellan, but I never thought I'd actually step foot on this place. Magellan is in fact considered the discoverer of Chile, the first European that sailed here.
 Beached boat in Punta Arenas harbor.
 Bad, bad girls! We saw a school of seagulls chilling on the shore and we made them all fly away. For the sake of a few cool photos like this one.
 Bored to death in Punta Arenas on Christmas eve, we walked around the streets and took silly photos of random things we came across, like this park that had all sorts of machinery made out of wood. A kid's paradise and we're of course still kids at heart.
 Spidey lives in Chile ... who knew?

Hanging out on the beach in Punta Arenas.

 Everything you ever needed to know about Patagonia. All these books are solely about Patagonia, at the tourist information office - and they're all in Spanish.
 Nao Victoria - a real-size replica of one of Magellan's 5 boats that went around the world. It's also the only one out of the 5 that made it back to Spain. A couple sank, one was burnt somewhere around the Phillipines (where Magellan was killed) and one deserted and headed back to Spain before they even reached the Magellan Strait (which by the way was called All Saints Strait while Magellan was still alive.) The replica was impressive and seemed quite small to me, thinking that such a tiny boat crossed oceans for months at a time. It also made me ask this question: did the Spanish really love spices that much to go to such an extent, or were spices just a pretext?
 On the deck of Magellan's boat.
 Now here's a modern day ferry. This giant beast cruises across the Magellan strait every day full of cars and people. It's the only mode of transportation to take people from continental Chile to the towns located on the island of Tierra del Fuego. And we took this boat to see the little Magellanic penguins on Isla Magdalena. The boat tour leaves at 5pm, it takes 2 hours to get there, 1 hour to play with the penguins, and 2 more hours to get back. That means we were back at 10pm. At first, we were shocked at why this boat leaves so late, but then we realized that close to the South Pole, the day is really, really long... the sun rises at around 4am and it sets at around 11pm. So doing a boat tour at 10pm around these parts of the world is not an issue at all.
 Crossing the Magellan strait on our way to hang out with those little adorable fuckers called penguins.
 70, 000 penguins hang out on Isla Magdalena every South Pole summer. They come all the way from the coast of Brazil and Argentina and nest here, because it's a perfect place for breeding. Apparently, they also need a lot of daylight to feed.

 So, yeah, this is what we did on December 25th, Christmas day. We got to hang with penguins. Best self-present ever!

 The little holes in the ground are their nests and the entire island is covered with thousands of these tiny holes. Each couple of penguins has 2 babies and the mother or father go fish in turns, while the other parent is protecting the babies from predator birds.

 Christmas night was a little bit depressing. Once we got ashore from the penguin adventure, we were starving and looked for places to get some food, but everything was closed. The place was a ghost-town, you could barely see a soul on the streets other than us.All bars were closed, all restaurants closed as well. We walked into a fancy hotel and asked if they have a bar that is open. Luckily, the hotel bar served food, so we got two steak burgers and some cocktails/beer. The above photo is Anne at the hotel bar. The bartender gave us a bottle of cider on the house, which is what they drink here instead of champagne.
My new favorite beer, dark and rich, a lot like Guinness, but tastier. I also love the label.

 On Christmas day we took a 3h bus to Puerto Natales, which is north of Punta Arenas and close to the national park where we hiked. This is the road. 
 Yagan House is the wonderful hostel where we stayed for Christmas in Puerto Natales. It was so lovely, homey and beautifully decorated that I snapped a bunch of photos of it, which you can see below. We really loved it here, other than the fact that the walls felt like they were made of cardboard, and you could hear every noise and step in the house.
 Christmas day - Anne is cooking pasta in the kitchen at Puerto Natales.
 The lovely living-room at Yagan House.
 Christmas day - I treated myself to a bottle of red Chilean wine. I was in a cozy, warm place, and even if it was so far away from home and my loved ones, it felt a bit like home in a strange kind of way.
 Shelves made of wooden crates.
 Our comfy beds at Yagan House.
 I think this is a gorgeous photo of Anne and no matter what she says when she sees this blog post (which she hasn't yet), I WILL NOT delete it. :)

This is the view you get from the Puerto Natales shoreline. 
This is another view you get from Puerto Natales.
 This ship was either being fixed up or shown off as a relic. Not sure which of the two.
 Boats hanging in the harbour at Puerto Natales.
 The following photos are interior shots of a hotel where we comtemplated staying for New Year's Eve, but sadly ended up not. I absolutely loved the way this hotel was decorated and how it looked drenched in afternoon light. Anne and I are sometimes joking that we're scouting for the ideal honeymoon location. If you like cold weather, lofty nature, isolation, cuddling in bed - this could be your spot!
 Hotel lobby.
 Hotel coffee and breakfast area.
 Hotel coffee bar.
 This is December 30th. Coming back from the park one day earlier than planned (as we got evacuated from the park because of the fire), it was a bit difficult to find a place to sleep. Everything was booked. We finally found beds at Hostel Shakana and met a few awesome folks, whom we hung out with for the next 2 days and had a great time. Chris and Alex cooked mashed potatoes, salad and steaks for dinner and invited us to join them. We brought some ice-cream cake and really enjoyed having a warm and cozy family-style dinner with these guys.
 The next morning, December 31st, we had a long breakfast together. The bald guy in red is the owner of the house, he walked into our room and shook us awake while we were still in our beds, to wake us up and make sure we're all having breakfast together at the same time. Then, he made us toast and eggs, coffee, cereal and milk, and I made some bacon, which was the first time we ate bacon since we left the US. It tasted heavenly! This breakfast lasted about 2 hours, during which we talked about tourism, politics, our countries, love, life, travel and so on.
For the night of December 31st we decided to splurge and get a nice hotel room.We got a room at Weskar Lodge, which is 1km outside town. It wasn't as good as expected, but good enough. Above, you can see our romantic matrimonial bed with a sheepskin shag on the floor. Anne posed in her bathing suit on the sheepskin shag, but you'll have to use your imagination to picture that.
 Maximum chilling in our swanky hotel room. This is on January 1st. Starting off the year right! (PS: for anyone ever wondering and who doesn't know us personally, no, we're not lesbians. Just because we're two girls traveling together, doesn't mean we're a couple. Just making sure there's no ambiguity around our sexual orientation.
I treated myself to a bottle of cheap white Chilean wine from the supermarket. Since Anne doesn't drink, I had to drink this entire bottle all by myself. Half of it before going out to ring in the new year, and the other half after. Needless to say, I got a bit drunk.

December 31st - sunset from our hotel room.
Hanging out with the local cat at Base Camp, a gear rental shop in Puerto Natales.
 New Year's Eve party at Base Camp in Puerto Natales.
 Our lovely crew celebrating the new year.

 January 1st - breakfast with a view at our hotel.

January 1st - Mega freezing outside, we took a quick dip in the hot tub, but the water wasn't hot at all, so after a few minutes of more freezing we bailed.
Jan 1st - Updating the blog while waiting for our bus back to Punta Arenas.